There is no question that email is one of the primary tools in the belt of the online professional. As a matter of fact, it is quite possible that you came to this point via a link you found in an email. Despite the prevalence of Slack, Trello and other applications, email isn’t going to change.
There are a number of security vulnerabilities hackers and other cybercriminals can be exploiting to achieve personal gain. This puts both you and others linked to you in danger, and can prove fatal to your business in the long run. A data breach can set a business back months, if not entirely destroy its reputation.
You have a responsibility to your associates, readers and customers to make sure that you have a safe online identity. If you want to have a thriving online business, people need to know that an email from you is safe. They need to know you’ll avoid threats and scams. It isn’t that difficult to stay safe, but you need to know the following, so you’re prepared for other problems in the future.
Attacks on Email Happen, and They’re Devastating
You already use email to some extent in expanding your business, and you have to wonder what would happen if the email address used to market your business was compromised. There is no better way to envision the seriousness of the situation. You are truly putting the safety of your entire online business into the ability of your email account to be defended.
This kind of loss would be devastating to your reputation, and it might not be possible for you to get it back. Most would also suffer the following consequences:
- Their contacts would get bombarded with spam and potentially dangerous messages.
- They would lose their personal information due to a hacker being able to comb through past sent emails and archived communications.
- A hacker could easily perform identity theft and financial fraud with enough information. It will likely happen in some form to you and your business.
- Your accounts will be compromised, as most of them will have password resets linked to an email address.
Clearly, there is a lot to lose. The main question now is whether there is anything you can do about it.
You Need to be Careful of Replies
While some people might forget this when sending out hundreds of emails per day, email is a two-way street. You are going to get replies, and you are going to need to look at those replies. The people replying can become some of your best long-term customers if you treat them right, but the primary thought that needs to be on your mind is that you don’t always know who is at the other end.
You have to operate under the assumption that the person on the other end isn’t to be trusted, which creates a problem when using email to promote your business. A good relationship is built on trust, and due to the anonymous nature of the internet and the fact that anyone can get an email address under many different names, that trust is hard to come by.
If you receive an email with links in it, you absolutely should not trust those links unless you have tools to help you determine their nature (and even then, you can’t be certain). Anything in the email that even looks suspicious should make you think about deleting the email altogether. If there is an unknown file attached, you absolutely should delete the email.
If all you are doing with your email address is sending out newsletters or something along those lines, you can include a disclaimer statement that you will not accept replies to the email being sent out. Then include a proper contact email address or a link to a place where comments can be expressed, such as a company forum or form.
Similarly, requests should be met with suspicion. It isn’t safe nor is it productive to grant every request for your time that comes along. If people truly mean it, they will give out more information themselves or try again later. Things like this could quickly turn into scams if you aren’t careful.
The Normal Email Threats Still Apply When Marketing
Using email as a marketing tool doesn’t change the threats you will likely face while you are using it. In fact, phishers and scammers will likely target you more often due to the amount of information you’ll have connected to your computers and accounts.
A phishing email isn’t likely to appear as obvious as they’re described in comedy acts or on TV. In fact, they might very well come from the hacked account of a colleague or boss, so you need to be extremely careful who you share your information with, no matter who is asking. You might get a legitimate request, but in such cases, it is better to deliver the information in person or through the phone so that a potential scam couldn’t work.
You also need to watch out for your computer in general, as your email account can get compromised while becoming the victim of a different type of attack. Follow these general tips on your computer if you don’t already:
- Make sure to update your programs and systems constantly, and that includes any email applications. The updates are often security-related, and you need to act quickly to leave no holes open for cyberattacks.
- You may wish to encrypt your email using a tool such as Criptext for your personal marketing correspondence. It instills confidence in both sides of a conversation without any disadvantage.
- Make sure you are using an online security suite.
- When you are traveling or using a public network (including just checking email), you will want to use a Virtual Private Network (like those recommended by Secure Thoughts), which is a service that connects you to a secure offsite server via an encrypted connection. Otherwise, you might find your data and accounts intercepted by cybercriminals who will be more than willing to sell data to the highest bidder.
- Be sure to use every form of verification and protection you can on your email account. If you can link it with your phone number to require a verification code, do so.
Attachments Are Still as Suspicious as Ever
You have likely heard this before, and you will hear it again now: attachments to an email are extremely dangerous and should be treated with the utmost caution. They could easily be malware in disguise, and your virus scanner or firewall won’t be able to do much if you are granting permission left and right to download every email that comes your business’ way.
There are a few file types that are safer than others. PDFs usually do not contain a threat, nor do Microsoft-office related files. While you should still be cautious, a trusted sender will likely not try to infect your business via that sort of email. You should be concerned about file types you haven’t heard of before, “.exe” files and any file with a name that doesn’t make sense in the context of the email.
Similarly, as a point of trust and so that you don’t spread the problem, try not to put too many attachments in your emails, instead putting in the information inside the email itself. Unless you are a well-established brand with a long history, potential clients and customers will be suspicious. It could even be possible that in the course of marketing your business you will spread a previously infected file.
Conclusion: It’s Not Inherently Safe, but It Can Be Made Safe
Despite all of these concerns, email remains a great tool to promote your online business or website. Its universality makes it essential, and it can often reach people more easily than social media can.
While there may be safer methods to reach customers out there, you have to contend with the fact that you’d be limiting your audience to those who can receive the communication. It isn’t a viable business option to limit your customer base, and asking others to install or use something else is usually asking too much. Email also doesn’t cost anything, so you can devote time and resources to make it as safe as possible.
Since it is so popular, hackers want to be able to crack it and have spent years of time solely working on the magic formula into your contacts list. They aren’t ordained to succeed. If you take note about what has been written above, you’ll be able to make your email address safe for marketing and safe for your customers.
Do you have any thoughts regarding email and its place as a marketing tool? Do you feel that even with the right defenses it is an unsafe option? Do you feel as though there are no other options for professionals looking to improve? If so, please leave a comment below so this conversation can continue. In addition, share this information with others so that they can make an informed decision regarding their email usage.
Bio: Cassie Phillips is a technology and security writer who is interested in keeping average people and online businesses alike safe. She hopes that this information helps you make the right decisions when it comes to your online business and email habits.